Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I've been thinking again.

About choices.
About decisions.
About mistakes.

We live in a culture that doesn't like mistakes. Most of the time, they are either ignored completely (no, really, it's fine), denied, (who, me?)(it was like that when I got here) or they are seen as a terrible thing (failure! idiot!).

None of these views is particularly useful.

It's not that I think mistakes, in and of themselves, are good. If they were, they wouldn't be mistakes, right? But they certainly are useful.

My kids are becoming adults. Not the easiest transition in the world, if I recall correctly. The thing is, when you are a child, your parents fix your mistakes. When you are an adult... nobody fixes them.


When my kids were little, they were, shall we say... stubborn. Hardheaded. Annoying. And they had very strong opinions about things. A whole lot like their parents, in other words. :-)

I used to tell people that I want my kids to grow into adults who can stand up for what is right, who can resist peer pressure, who can make good choices and good decisions. The trouble is, in order for them to be able to do that, they have to LEARN to do that, which means they need to practice it from an early age. And having children who stand up for what they believe, instead of always caving to pressure, from YOU, can be a pain in the butt.

In other words, in order to have strong adults, you must allow them to be strong children. In order for them to make good decisions as adults, they must be allowed to make decisions as a child.

It's a whole lot easier to learn to make good decisions by making bad SMALL decisions, than by making bad BIG decisions. Easier on them and easier on me. So it's important to let them make choices, even if you wouldn't make the same one.

Piled those blocks too high and they fell over? Try again.
Picked something you didn't like for lunch? No big deal.
Didn't wear a warm enough jacket, and got cold? Add a layer next time.
Left food on the counter and the cat ate it? Put it away.
Left a toy on the floor, then stepped on it and hurt your foot? Owie.

Or even: said something that got your friend really mad at you, and now they don't want to be your friend? Learn how to treat people respectfully, and/or learn how to move on.

I'd much prefer those sorts of mistakes than not coming all the way to a stop at a stop sign and causing an "accident," or an unplanned pregnancy, or going out alone in the wrong part of town and getting mugged (or worse), or any number of more serious mistakes.

Little mistakes can usually be fixed, or avoided in the future.
Big mistakes can mess you up for life.

So my theory is this: fail early, and fail often. Let your mistakes guide you to making better choices, better decisions. Help those in your life to be better decision makers by allowing them to make errors when the results won't be dangerous and then help them learn how to deal with those mistakes.

It may be the biggest favor you ever do them, and yourself.


GreenJello said...

Ooh, yes. So very important!

I am this way with my children. If they can't learn to stand on their own while there is still a safety net at home, it's gonna be a whole lot harder once they're out in the Big Bad World.

My daughters have friends whose parents seem to feel the need to protect them from the world and/or make all the decisions for the kids.

I feel very, very sorry for them. They are having such a huge disservice done to them!

Jen - Queen of Poo said...

Good post! I've been telling my perfectionist self-critical daughter that although the mistakes she makes are painful to her, she's learning much more from those than she is from everything she does right. Mistakes are not to be feared.

hilinda said...

Hey jen, nice to see you here.

Funny thing... less than half an hour after I posted, we watched a TV show that had the same theme, of not enabling people by fixing all their mistakes for them.

Tamar said...

Bravo! Though this idea may seem counterintuitive or at least hard to implement-- at first-- it quickly sells itself, because when kids have the opportunity to figure out solutions for themselves it's a win-win. They feel better about themselves and their competency and we feel reassured that they know how to hold their own.

I write about these ideas in my new book, Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking: Powerful, Practical Strategies to Build a Lifetime of Resilience, Flexibility and Happiness. I devote an entire chapter to the fine art of losing, failing and handling jealousy and disappointment (lots in there for perfectionists too!). To read an excerpt, check out

So great to see that this idea is on your radar!

Lori Skoog said...

Hilinda...Well put. I agree. There comes a time when a child needs to "hit the wall." A time when he/she needs to accept responsibility for decisions/actions. Enabling ends up working against them in the long run. As I was close to retirement (High School Art Teacher) I found myself saying to the students..."if you do this, this will happen...if you do that, that will happen." You have to decide. Trying to force something can backfire. They just need to understand what the choices mean...then you have to stick to your guns... and the younger, the better. It is very hard for many parents to say "no" to their kids. Amazingly enough, when they get to be 20 or so, something magical happens and they become your friends and you feel like you are on the same plain. Since our girls have been of college age we have frequently had dinners combing our age groups enjoying every minute of it. Both of them have grown into amazing women who can hold their own in any court. They grew up communicating with people of all ages and were comfortable doing so.